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Virgin in talks to secure a slice of China's mobile market

HONG KONG – Virgin is planning to launch a mobile phone service in China as a 50-50 joint venture with a Chinese company within a year to 18 months, according to reports.

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Virgin has set aside $300m (£154m) and is "in the early stages of discussion" with several companies, Sir Richard Branson has said. If it replicates its UK business model, it will team up with a network carrier and resell its service under the Virgin brand.

Branson was speaking in Hong Kong earlier today at the launch of a Virgin air route from London to Sydney via Hong Kong.

The Chinese mobile market has more than 300m users. China Mobile has around two thirds of the market and China Unicom has around one third.

There is also a low-cost service called Little Smart, which offers limited roaming but has 75m users.

The Chinese government is expected to issue 3G licences next year.

Virgin has also been reported to be looking at launching a mobile service in India with a similar business model.

It mobile operations include Virgin Mobile in the UK and Virgin USA, which is a tie-up with US mobile operator Sprint and will be floated next year.

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